THE great thing about Chan-wook Park’s films is you never know what you are going to get.

You can tell the South Korean director’s work apart from other filmmakers as his movies are always darkly atmospheric and feature intriguing, complex characters in tales that twist and turn.

But in his 25-year career we have seen the likes of cyborgs and vampires while he is probably best known for Oldboy, an odd whodunnit crossed with a revenge film which was as thrilling as it was visually arresting.

Park also showed he could turn his hand to an English language drama in Stoker, starring Nicole Kidman.

The Handmaiden sees him return to his native Korea – as well as Japan – for his first period film that, on the surface, seems more conventional than his back catalogue.

The deceptively simple story sees Sookee, a Korean woman from a family of thieves, hired as a handmaiden to Japanese heiress Hideko, but secretly she is involved in a plot to defraud her with smooth conman Fujiwara.

But when Sookee and Hideko begin to develop feelings for each other, they start putting together a plan of their own. Beautifully shot and remarkably well paced for a film around the two and a half hour mark,

The Handmaiden becomes an unravelling tale of who is fooling who. Full of vulgar characters, Park’s film also has a lot to say about the inbalance between men and women in 1930s eastern culture, with women often perceived as objects or servants.

The quirky interactions between the leads keeps the story engaging and darkly comic throughout.

But with an 18 rating it is also very graphic which may put off some viewers. Nevertheless this is the kind of romp that would be eaten up at the box office if it was a western film. After all it was inspired by Welsh author Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith.

It would be no surprise to see it adapted by Hollywood but meanwhile if you are a fan of Park’s work or want an introduction to Korean cinema, The Handmaiden comes highly recommended.

RATING: 9/10